7 Reasons To Give Your Book Away For FREE
It may seem counterintuitive, but the strategic use of free copies of your book can boost sales.
Last week Penny Reid gave her book Kissing Tolstoy away for free for one day. Reid is a romance author with over thirty best-selling books. You may be asking yourself, why would an established and successful author give away copies of her book? The answer is simple. It’s a win-win for both the author and readers.
This may sound counterintuitive, but getting your book into the hands of potential readers at no cost to the audience is a tried-and-true marketing tactic that has the potential to increase sales far greater than the cost of the initial round of free books.
7 Reasons to give your book away
Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
Print-ready versions of your book are distributed to a select group of readers weeks before the official launch date of your book. Given away for free, either in digital or print format, these copies are a win-win for readers and authors.
Readers get the opportunity to binge a story before the general public. This is a great way to keep your super fans engaged with your writing. And what do super fans tend to do? They tell the world about how excited they are to be selected to read your book in advance. Bookstagrammers and Booktokers will show off your book on social media, thus enhancing their inside track status and their review of the book before the launch date.
For authors, first and foremost, the bonus here is reviews on day one of your book. Amazon in particular assesses your book on the first day it is available and having reviews posted is essential. Getting to the magical number of fifty reviews gives your book an enormous boost in the Amazon algorithm, pushing it into the search results.
However, there are other advantages to having readers look at your book in advance of its release. This select group might be part of your existing fan base and can help to promote the launch of your book through social media and cross promotion. Seeing how a reader talks about your book can help guide your marketing and book launch initiatives.
In addition, these readers can provide a second (or twelfth) set of eyes on your book and may spot inconsistencies or errors your editors and you might have missed. Super fans might know your characters better than you do and for new authors, they can provide feedback on what resonates with them or keeps them reading. Additionally, they can point out any formatting or printing irregularities which is handy before your book gets into the hands of new readers or you print a quantity of copies for yourself.
Pro-Tip: Add a watermark that states the book is an advanced reader copy and not for sale to indicate that the book is different from the final and published version.
Generate word of mouth
A big boost for a new author is finding initial readers. With an estimated 1.7 million book titles self-published each year, readers have an abundance of choice when it comes to discovering new authors. And the hard truth is, most readers stick with their favorite authors, not taking a chance on a new writer unless they have an incentive.
Giving your book away for free to a targeted group just might be that incentive. You may consider creating a giveaway page on your author site, giving away copies of an older book to generate buzz leading up to the release of the latest book in the series. Or give copies to a book club to use for discussion.
As mentioned above, giving away advance copy versions of your book is a great way to have reviews ready for launch day, but what about after launch? One can never have enough reviews. Reviews are the third most important marketing tool, after your cover and blurb. Some readers will even skip reading your blurb and go straight to what other readers have to say about your book.
Understanding your readers is an essential part of marketing your book. By gathering insight into who responds well to your novel and who reads it, you are able to construct a reader profile. Tracking where your book gets the most downloads and by whom is valuable data to add to a reader profile.
A reader profile helps you determine where and how to market your book. For example, if your book giveaway isn’t a success on one site but trends on another, study the audiences those sites attract and add this information to your profile. You can also experiment with covers and blurbs to see if readers respond better to one over the other.
Pro-Tip: Watch your sales statistics with retailers on the days your book is free. You may find you can rise to the sought after “bestseller” status. A fact you can use in your marketing efforts. However, be sure you qualify that the status was attained under the free book category.
Increase website traffic
There can be other “glow” effects from giving your book away aside from reviews. One that’s not often considered is the impact on your website. Funneling readers through your website to get the free download had two distinct benefits. First, you introduce new readers to your world, all your books, new books you are working on, other book related materials you have to offer, and the ways they can keep in touch with you.
Consider adding a prompt to your website where visitors are asked to join your newsletter. Or better yet, make joining your newsletter a condition of the giveaway process, thus increasing your subscribers. The advantage here is more than a one-time interaction, allowing your messages to pop into readers’ inboxes on a regular basis.
Pro-Tip: Read Book Marketing: A Beginner’s Guide for more information on how newsletters are an important part of book promotion.
Secondly, by increasing viewership of your website, you boost your search engine optimization (SEO) and search results on popular search engines. The sites with the most traffic rise to the top in search results.
Get in front of new readers
By adding your book to a promotion with other free books, you compound your stories’ potential to find new readers. Goodreads has 90 million users; Bookbub has over 15 million. Many of these sites rely on weekly or daily touchpoints with their readers and segment their communications based on genre. This means there is not only the potential to get your book in front of a vast number of readers, but that these readers are those that are interested in books with your themes.
Readers may be more likely to purchase other books from an author if they’ve read and enjoyed one already. Additionally, by giving away the first in a series, you may experience a read through on all the other subsequent books as the reader wants to spend more time with those characters.
Finally, if your book is good and resonates with the people who downloaded it, this will help generate sales after the promotion. Sales you would not have had otherwise.
Where to give away your books
Whether you are in the pre-launch stages and looking for advanced copy readers or searching for opportunities to get your book in front of a new audience, there are a number of book giveaway sites that can help you get your free book into the hands of readers.
Popular with publishing houses, NetGalley offers a vast network of readers who are accustomed to the Advanced Reader Copy world. In addition, the site gives control to authors by allowing them to approve reviewers. Reviewers are also given a credibility rating based on the number of books they read and review.
Smaller in scope than Net Galley but with a broader range of options, StoryOrigin is an author and reader focused site and offers digital downloads and interactive review and reading experiences. Authors approve readers and reviewer stats are easily accessible. By connecting your book to popular review sites like Goodreads, Bookbub, Kobo, etc. reviews are automatically posted.
With a focus on self-published authors, Booksprout connects book reviews with authors and boasts an average review rate of over 75%. Additionally, this site helps you build an ARC review team by giving you the option to invite reviewers to follow you. The site also offers reader statistics, in-app messaging, and is connected to popular review sites like Goodreads, Bookbub, Kobo, etc.
With hundreds of giveaways each week, a promotional newsletter, and direct links to your book, there are plenty of readers on Goodreads to attract to your free book promotion. Used by traditional and self-published authors, many of the book giveaways on Goodreads are used for pre-release promotional purposes, with signed copies, swag, or digital copies as the prizes. Giveaways are easily tracked and can be limited to US only residents.
Goodreads also sends out daily emails to subscribers, targeted by genre. Your giveaway will be featured on the homepage of readers who have read in your genre and if readers follow you as an author, they will receive an in-app notification of your promotion.
Equal part book blog, book podcast and giveaway center, this popular site dedicates a section to book giveaways. Post your book on Book Riot as a single book giveaway or add it to a featured promo matching your genre. Readers receive news of giveaways through Book Riot’s newsletter.
After setting up your profile on Bookbub, you can apply for a number of promotional opportunities, including giveaways. Different from other sites, authors are required to submit their book for consideration. Bookbub’s editorial team then reviews your novel and decides which feature it might be a good fit for. The advantage here is Bookbub will do all the work for you, creating the promotion and getting your book out to its massive list of email subscribers and placing it on their website for additional exposure.
Relatively new to the book review and reading space, StoryGraph is a competitor of Goodreads and popular with younger readers. The fun fact here is the site will analyze reading habits and provide readers with a graph that breaks down their styles. Recently the site has added giveaway promotions.
Similar to Goodreads, giveaways are available on LibraryThing. The difference here is that the giveaways are given out by request in exchange for an online review. Each giveaway clearly states how many copies are available and how many have been requested.
Potential readers provide their first impressions of your book on Bookish First in exchange for a chance to win a copy. They are provided with a sample of your novel and earn points for reading that can be redeemed for a future free book. In addition, they earn more points when they share their review on other book community websites.
You can use Laterpress to give away your book. Authors have the ability to change the price of their book at any time, so a book can be free at all times, or free for a limited time. With the book linked to your author site, you can use this as a way to get readers looking at your site before receiving a free book, as mentioned above. Authors have the option of allowing book downloads, so readers can download a copy to send to their Kindle, or other ereader.
You don’t have to rely on a site in the book community to give your book away. Run a contest on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. to create a buzz about your book.
One fun way to run a contest is to have users enter by tagging two friends. Since readers are more likely to read a book recommended by a friend, this is a great way to find new readers. Even if the tagged accounts don’t buy your book, they may follow you, giving you more opportunities to introduce them to you and your books in the future.
The Fine Print
Giving your book away for free requires a little thought with regards to the terms and conditions surrounding the event. Any entrant of your contest has the right to know what the limits and expectations are. This will help cover you in case of any disputes.
Some elements to add to the fine print of any sweepstakes include:
Number of Winners
Prizes Given to Winners: How many free copies are being given out? What format? (Print, ebook, audiobooks) Are there other prizes, like gift cards, bookmarks, or other book swag?
Giveaway Starts: Date and time
Giveaway Ends: Date and time
How to Enter: Explain how people can enter the free giveaway. List any special requirements, like using specific hashtags in posts on social media, or if they have to tell you their favorite book as part of entering. (That questions helps you see what other books your potential readers like, which could be used for possible marketing comparisons later.)
Winner Selection: How will the winner be picked? Raffle? Random number generator? Selected by a judge?
Winner Notification: Who will contact the winner and how
Shipping Method: How long will it take you to send or ship the book
Social Network Disclaimers: Be clear that the site you are hosting the giveaway on is not associated with the event.
“NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.” This is essential and necessary.
Sponsor: Your Name
Contact Details: Your Email
Eligibility: Is your giveaway open to the US only or other countries as well?
Other kinds of free distribution
Free First In Series
While this article has focused primarily on limited-time giveaways of your book, you may want to give away books for free, permanently. Once a series has several books out, some authors then make the first book in the series free permanently. The idea here is to draw in as many readers as possible with a large sample of your work (the entire first book) to get them hooked on the series, so they’ll move on to buy the rest. Most effective when a series has at least three or four books in it.
We have a whole article on this subject, so look there for additional details. Basically, a reader magnet is content given away for free, in exchange for someone signing up for your newsletter so you can keep them updated with news about your writing, and upcoming books.
Free is a good thing
While it may feel counterintuitive, free book giveaways are an inventive and cost-effective way to raise awareness of your body of work and increase sales. They can help generate word of mouth publicity, and boost your exposure in search engine results. They’re also great for building some hype for your new releases, if used as part of your plan for a book launch. If you’re not ready to launch your own, enter giveaways run by other authors to see how they do it. But don't be afraid to make strategic use of free copies of your book as a marketing tactic, and have fun with it!